Plantations as a growth industry
In south-eastern and south-western Australia there are approximately 1.6 million hectares of native and exotic tree plantations (Australia's State of the Forests Report 2003). The estimated supply of firewood that could be produced as part of normal forestry operations from these plantations amounts to 14 million tonnes - with approximately 8 million tonnes from softwood and 6 million tonnes from hardwood (Parlane & Clarke 2000).
Supplying firewood from these existing plantations might create a market for prunings and thinnings that would otherwise be considered as waste wood and thereby improve profitability. A trial project was run in Armidale by State Forests of New South Wales in 2002 to examine the feasibility of using hardwood plantation trimmings and thinnings as firewood.
Utilising products of plantations and sustainably managed forestry in higher rainfall zones offers the best potential source of sustainably produced firewood. The area of hardwood plantations is rapidly expanding and Australia's State of the Forests Report 2003 estimates that most future plantings will consist of hardwood species. The majority of these hardwood plantations will be established on short rotations to produce pulplogs. While the price differential between sawlogs and pulplogs on the one hand and firewood on the other might need to change to make firewood an economically viable product of these plantations, they remain a potential future source of firewood.
Another approach to the development of sustainable firewood industries is to establish multipurpose plantations on cleared agricultural land in areas where rainfall is too low for pulpwood plantations. Such plantations could potentially create regional economic opportunities and could be considered a renewable source of domestic firewood. These plantations could also be used for the production of electricity and ethanol as well as potential income from salinity credits if a market for these were created. These plantations would have the added benefit of enhancing biodiversity conservation and helping to mitigate land degradation in the regions of Australia that are most severely affected.
The establishment of firewood or multipurpose plantations could potentially increase the supply of firewood in the medium term (approximately 10-15 years). It has been estimated that to supply Australia's 6 million tonnes annual consumption of firewood from low rainfall plantations, 4 million hectares of trees would need to be planted (Chudleigh & Zoretto 1999).
A number of private plantations for commercial firewood supply have been established in recent years.
More information on Australia's forests and plantations can be found at:
- Department of Climate Change: Forest sinks
- Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry: About Plantations
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